Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

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Flashback Favorite - When we don't learn God's lessons

When we don’t learn God’s lessons
originally posted on May 24, 2018

Hard times are called that for a reason…they’re hard to deal with.  But the author of Hebrews gave his readers a better perspective on how to handle the difficult times in life:

Hebrews 12:7, 11
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?...No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And yet I wonder…What happens when we don’t embrace God’s discipline?  What happens when we refuse to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us?

When we look back in Scripture, we find this theme of God instructing His people repeatedly, over and over.  Below is just one example of what He said to the Israelites after they had spurned Him and His ways.  In Hebrews, the end result of God’s teaching is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Keep an eye out for that here:

Isaiah 48:17
This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
Who leads you in the way you should go.

If only you had paid attention to my commands.
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been as countless as the sand,
and the offspring of your body like its grains;
their name would not be cut off or eliminated from my presence.


God says His teaching would have resulted in peace as steady and calm like a river, and righteousness that is as massive and powerful like the waves of the sea.  What a beautiful (almost paradoxical) comparison…imagine your life…where you handle any/all situations with calmness and peace, and your life’s actions are so undeniably in tune with God’s plan for living that you move with power as your righteousnesspositively affects the people around you.  A life like that would be a huge comfort to us personally and even more so to those around us.

But let’s be honest…we know that we cannot grow to that level on our own.  So God offers to intentionally teach the Israelites how to be this way – how to reflect Him to the world.  It’s the same offer in our Hebrews passage, where God is training us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Teaching, training, and developing His people was God’s intention for the Israelites – both individually and as a nation.  It’s also His intention for us – both individually and as the church. 

But, like the Israelites, we are
hard-headed
stubborn
selfish
slow to trust God
slow to learn
prone to really messing things up
afraid

The Israelites rebelled so many times and ran so far from God, that He allowed their nation to be overtaken and plundered by other nations.  By the time Isaiah came along, they certainly were not experiencing peace or righteousness themselves.  In addition, God says the course of the following generations was also affected – their families’ descendants and offspring were heavily impacted by the foreign invasion, to the point where family names and bloodlines were cut off or eliminated.

And when we look objectively back at the times we’ve stiff-armed God, trying to keep Him at arm’s length, we can still see some of the lasting effects in our lives and the lives of our family.  Perhaps we even say to ourselves like what was said about the Israelites: if only I had payed attention to God’s commands.  Regret and depression are heavy burdens…and we are unable to undo the past.  What do we do now?

Look back at the Isaiah passage.  Right at the top, how does God describe Himself?

Your Redeemer.

He is the one who buys back, delivers, and protects those who cannot do so for themselves.  The ones who have messed up beyond what they could ever fix or repay…they find rescue in Him. 

Yes, there were heavy consequences for how far the nation of Israel ran from God – but He did not abandon them.  Yes, God disciplines His church – but we’re still part of His family.  Our loving father is also our redeemer.  He loves us enough to show us how to live rightly, how to live well.

Even if we don’t get it right the first time.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

On suicide and despair

This past week, a news story caught my attention.  A young New York dietitian committed suicide.  By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life.  She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field.  She had friends and co-workers that valued her.  Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world. 

And yet, she felt empty.  Here’s part of the note she left behind:

I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired. 

I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?

Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness.  Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point.  We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.  “Absolute futility.  Everything is futile.”  What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…

All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say.  The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…

There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.

These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed.  They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years.  If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage. 

However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective.  It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again.  But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied.  And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.

Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us.  This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty.  But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.

If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus.  You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings.  Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective.  We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone.  Your family is here for you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Knowing God without seeing Him

My time working for a company once coincided with the last years of the company’s founder being involved in the operation.  He and a friend had started the business over 40 years previous to my arrival. 

I never saw him while at work, our paths never crossed.  I was second shift in the QC lab, and he was managing the Executive Board.  However, within my first few years on the job, while at a dedication event for Chestnut Mountain Ranch, I saw him from a distance.  I was afraid to walk up and awkwardly introduce myself, and I rationalized my fear by thinking that my position was too low to justify me striking up a conversation out of the blue.

Although I never had another chance to speak with him, I did get to know him.  The longer I worked at the company, the more I found that nearly everyone knew Mike.  In previous years, he had purposefully worked closely with many of his employees.  Those who worked with him had adopted his ethos for excellent work and treating your workers with excellence.  I came to know the standards and expectations of the company because the founder had instilled his methods and expectations on those who would pass down those patterns of behavior to me.

On a much larger scale, something similar has happened in God’s family.  In the books referred to as “The Gospels”, we have four separate, but highly complementary, records of Jesus’ life.  John, the youngest of all Jesus’ disciples, would record Jesus telling the disciples at the Passover meal:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new command: Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

How will others know that we are followers of Jesus?  It’s not because of the money we make, the car we drive, or the education we have.  We are identified as disciples based upon how we love other believers.

Did you know that Jesus even prayed for us modern-day believers?  That’s right, Jesus specifically mentions us – you and me – during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified.  John also recorded this:

John 17:20-21
I pray not only for [the disciples], but also for those who believe in Me through their word.  May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.  May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe you sent Me.

Jesus’ words obviously stuck with John.  Many years after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, here’s what John passed on about Jesus in a letter he wrote to other believers…ones who had never met Jesus:

1 John 4:9-12
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God.  If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is made complete in us.

Notice a theme?  John carried on Jesus’ instruction, that God cares how we love one another, because our love is a reflection of His.  How well we love each other demonstrates how closely we are walking with Him…and as that kind of love is different from what the world offers as love, everyone will know that we are His disciples.

As the global church of believers – those who trust in Jesus for eternal life – we have many ways to get to know our Savior.  Start with what John tells us – choose to love your fellow believers.  Listen to others talk about their relationship with Him.  When we read Scripture, we find out who He is and what He is like.  We can pray and talk directly to Him.

Short of the rapture happening in our lifetime, we won’t meet Jesus face-to-face until we’re on the other side.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t know Him now.  We haven’t missed our chance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Choosing the better meal

As a Christian, there is lots to do.  Many, many ways to serve God and love others.  The New Testament is full of encouragement for Christians to get off their duffs and get engaged – both with other believers and those outside of God’s family.

Let’s be honest.  Some of us are lazy.  There are those in the family that don’t value being an active participant in the family.  They’ll show up on Sunday and then go about their own business the rest of the week.  However, that pendulum can also swing hard in the other direction – some of us get involved in everything that’s happening.  There are so many needs, so many people that legitimately need a hand, and so much good that can be done…that some of us try to be everything to everyone.

There’s a constant tension between these two camps, and those on each side always seem to have their radar out in case one of others is encountered.  The lazy don’t want to be bothered with the buzzing of the super-busy Christian.  The over-extended believer resents that they are left to shoulder it all, while others loaf around.

This isn’t a new issue.  In fact, someone once brought this exact situation up to Jesus.  One believer publicly identified another believer as “lazy”, and asked Jesus to do something about it.

Luke 10:38-42
While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can imagine how this played out over the course of the day.  When everyone arrives, Martha greets Jesus and His disciples, then gets busy with her hosting duties.  She sees Mary sit down with Jesus and the other guests, “But that’s not a problem,” she thought, “Mary will get up to help soon.”  But then Mary doesn’t get up.  A little while later, Martha starts shooting sideways glances, trying to get her sister’s attention.  But Mary doesn’t move.  Martha continues with her work, preparing the meal, managing the flow of people, rearranging living space and furniture, answering questions, and doing all the other detail work that happens when a large group of people descend upon your house. 

At first, she only grumbles in her mind.  Then she begrudges Mary for slacking off because, after all, there is work to be done.  She starts muttering to herself, but not loud enough for the guests to hear.  Her agitation is becoming physically apparent, but hasn’t boiled over yet.  Eventually, though, Martha has had enough.  Jesus showed up hours ago, and Mary is still sitting at His feet.  She can’t stand it anymore, so, in a huff, Martha bursts into the room, interrupts what Jesus is saying, and blurts out her frustration:

Luke 10:40
“Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The air in the room is now thick with stunned silence.  Everyone’s eyes slowly shift toward Jesus, wondering how He is going to answer His frazzled host’s request for assistance and justice. 

Martha was measuring their love for Jesus based upon how much activity each one was doing.  Martha was on the move, Mary was stationary.  In fact, Mary wasn’t lifting a finger to help Martha.  Martha saw all these legitimate needs around her and couldn’t believe Mary was blind to them.  In Jewish society, a woman’s honor and reputation was based upon her ability to manage her household and serve her guests.  But Jesus didn’t see it that way:

Luke 10:41-42
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can almost hear the softness in Jesus’ answer.  He acknowledges that Martha is worried about the meal preparations, but tells her that Mary has chosen the better meal.  Mary isn’t one of the “lazy” ones; instead she is receiving an opportunity that was never given to Jewish women – to sit with the master Rabbi as He taught.  Mary was acting upon the same truth that Jesus quoted to Satan from Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 8:3
Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Jesus was not going to stop Mary from eating this meal, despite all the other human needs around her at the moment.  Let’s not be silly and think that we shouldn’t be concerned with meeting the needs of others – a brief glace at the life of Jesus shows us otherwise.  However, in this moment, Mary was doing the best thing she possibly could, even if Martha would have preferred she do something else.

Serving Jesus is important, but time with Jesus is more important.  Let’s not emphasize the first so much that we neglect that latter.  C. H. Spurgeon said it quite well:

“I may sometimes run with Martha to do what Christ needs of me, but I think I should more frequently sit with Mary to receive from Christ what I need from Him.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When we don't learn God's lessons

Hard times are called that for a reason…they’re hard to deal with.  But the author of Hebrews gave his readers a better perspective on how to handle the difficult times in life:

Hebrews 12:7, 11
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?...No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And yet I wonder…What happens when we don’t embrace God’s discipline?  What happens when we refuse to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us?

When we look back in Scripture, we find this theme of God instructing His people repeated, over and over.  Below is just one example of what He said to the Israelites after they had spurned Him and His ways.  In Hebrews, the end result of God’s teaching is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Keep an eye out for that here:

Isaiah 48:17
This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
Who leads you in the way you should go.

If only you had paid attention to my commands.
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been as countless as the sand,
and the offspring of your body like its grains;
their name would not be cut off or eliminated from my presence.


God says His teaching would have resulted in peace as steady and calm like a river, and righteousness that is as massive and powerful like the waves of the sea.  What a beautiful (almost paradoxical) comparison…imagine your life…where you handle any/all situations with calmness and peace, and your life’s actions are so undeniably in tune with God’s plan for living that you move with power as your righteousness positively affects the people around you.  A life like that would be a huge comfort to us personally and even more so to those around us.

But let’s be honest…we know that we cannot grow to that level on our own.  So God offers to intentionally teach the Israelites how to be this way – how to reflect Him to the world.  It’s the same offer in our Hebrews passage, where God is training us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Teaching, training, and developing His people was God’s intention for the Israelites – both individually and as a nation.  It’s also His intention for us – both individually and as the church. 

But, like the Israelites, we are
hard-headed
stubborn
selfish
slow to trust God
slow to learn
prone to really messing things up
afraid

The Israelites rebelled so many times and ran so far from God, that He allowed their nation to be overtaken and plundered by other nations.  By the time they got to that point in their history, they certainly were not experiencing peace or righteousness themselves.  In addition, God says the course of the following generations was also affected – their families’ descendants and offspring were heavily impacted by the foreign invasion, to the point where family names and bloodlines were cut off or eliminated.

And when we look objectively back at the times we’ve stiff-armed God, trying to keep Him at arm’s length, we can still see some of the lasting effects in our lives and the lives of our family.  Perhaps we even say to ourselves like what was said about the Israelites: if only I had payed attention to God’s commands.  Regret and depression are heavy burdens…and we are unable to undo the past.  What do we do now?

Look back at the Isaiah passage.  Right at the top, how does God describe Himself?

Your Redeemer.

He is the one who buys back, delivers, and protects those who cannot do so for themselves.  The ones who have messed up beyond what they could ever fix or repay…they find rescue in Him. 

Yes, there were heavy consequences for how far the nation of Israel ran from God – but He did not abandon them.  Yes, God disciplines His church – but we’re still part of His family.  Our loving father is also our redeemer.  He loves us enough to show us how to live rightly, how to live well.

Even if we don’t get it right the first time.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 3)

The author of Hebrews gave his readers a three step description of what Christian living looks like.  Each step begins with the phrase “let us”.  After drawing near to God and then holding on to our reliance on Him, the next step is this:

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We can’t do this alone.  We need to be watching out for one another.

How many times have you heard (…or said) the following:

I don’t need to go to church.  I can be with God just fine by myself out in nature.
I don’t need to go to church.  Everyone there is a judgmental hypocrite.
I don’t need to go to church.  I don’t really get much out of it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is very, very self-centered.

What if we viewed our weekly gatherings as an opportunity to help others in God’s family?  Try this line of thinking instead:

I need to go to church because a little boy needs to know that God loves him.
I need to go to church because a teenage girl needs to know that God accepts her, just as she is.
I need to go to church because a struggling mom needs a smile and someone to talk to.
I need to go to church because a man doubting his marriage needs reassured in order to keep at it.

I need to go to church because we will all encourage each other while we wait for Jesus to return.

We must watch out for and encourage each other.  The perspective we develop when we give Godly encouragement is just as important as the perspective we develop when we receive Godly encouragement.

The rest of the Scriptures certainly bear this out, too:

Acts 20:35
…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Proverbs 11:25
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.

Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.


If we’re going to live the Christian life…If we’re going to live the Christ-like life…then we need to take the focus off of ourselves.  Encouraging each other is a great way to put our focus on others.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to deal with conflict

Ever get the urge to just “knock some sense” into someone?

Or at the very least, give them a verbal beat down that will “set them right” – and maybe let us blow off a little steam?

Take Paul’s protégé Timothy as an example.

He’s in a major metropolitan city he didn’t grow up in, he’s (at most) 30 years old, he’s in charge of the entire Christian church family in the city, and Paul has charged him with combating false doctrine and incorrect teachings of others.

How much conflict is going to come his way?  How many folks will be coming at him to argue with him?  Think he’ll have days where he feels the need to put someone in their place?

The Greek word for rebuke means just that – to strike or beat upon, to chastise with words.  I’m sure there were more than a few people (even some of them believers) who would have needed a strong dose of correction.

But look at how Paul says the young leader Timothy should handle those people:

1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.

While a rebuke would be a sharp, cutting word of correction, Timothy’s choice to exhort the person sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The Greek word translated exhort means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, comfort, or instruction.

Paul knew his Old Testament well.  As he directed Timothy, he likely had this proverb in mind:

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.

In a separate letter, Paul reminded the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Going toe-to-toe with an angry patron would make it difficult for Timothy to reach them with lasting correction and change.  Nor would harsh words model how God treats us.

One last observation to make.  Did you see the extra note Paul included for Timothy’s interaction with younger women?  With all propriety, [exhort] younger women as sisters.  We’ve all seen it too many times.  A high-ranking church leader losing his reputation, his job, and his influence for Christ due to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. 

Men, hear me clearly – if we do not keep ourselves intentionally pure and sinless in this area, especially with younger women, then we are inviting destruction into our lives.  Carelessness in this area will bring shame to ourselves and significant damage to God’s reputation in this life…and then we’ll have to answer to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment.  You don’t want that.  I don’t want that.  We must take any steps necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

So, here’s Paul direction to Timothy, all fleshed out:

Do not rebuke and older man, but exhort him as a father
Do not rebuke a younger man, but exhort him as a brother
Do not rebuke an older woman, but exhort her as a mother
Do not rebuke a younger woman, but – with all integrity – exhort her as a sister.

Put these into practice, and you will reflect God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

The ultimate blended family

What am I going to do?

The feeling of being helpless is more familiar than any of us care to admit.

We’re in a situation, or given some information…and we just don’t know how to process it, let alone what our best next step will be.  It’s in those moments that we want to look to someone with more experience, someone to show us how to deal with what life has brought our way.

Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus would be looking to Timothy with those kinds of questions.  The city was a huge cultural and spiritual mish-mash, and Timothy’s mission was to provide guidance and support to those in the church family.  Knowing the challenges Timothy would face, Paul sent him a letter.  About halfway through, Paul explains his motivation for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Paul doesn’t know the future.  He has a strong desire to minister side-by-side with his protégé again…but just in case he is delayed, Paul made sure Timothy knew how to support the people in the church.

I love the way Paul described those people, too…I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household.  We’re all part of God’s household.  Not God’s business.  Not God’s club.  Not God’s military, or any other socially-structured group.  We’re all part of God’s family. 

Being a family is hard.  And we’re not necessarily good at being a family with those with whom we share blood ties and genetics…so how are we supposed to be a household when we weren’t even raised in similar contexts?

Those are the legitimate questions the Ephesian believers are going to be asking Timothy.  If you were in his place, how would you answer them?

Stop and think of an answer before moving on…the church is the ultimate example of a ‘blended family’…so how do we make this household actually function as a family?

Paul actually gives us the answer.  God’s householdis the church of the living God.  We don’t define us as a family – belonging to the living Creator of the Universe is what ties us together as a family.  God is our pillar and foundation of the truth

This is no small thing.  In fact, Paul goes on to say:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:

The concept of being in God’s household is, in the Greek, a megas-mysterion.  It is so large, that it has to be explained to us before we can really understand it.  But why is it that way, why can’t it be easy to live as part of God’s household?

Interestingly enough, Paul then quotes a hymn reminding Timothy of the greatness of our Savior:

He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

Since Christ is so unique among all other proposed gods that the world looks to…it makes sense that being part of God’s household would mean that, at times, we’ll need help figuring out what to do next.  But that’s why we have mentors, and why it’s so important for us to mentor others.

Being part of God’s household means that we are connected to each other in the deepest, most unique way possible…it’s not always easy to be family…but it is who He created us to be.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

What a leader should NOT be

When it comes to choosing the person who will manage the overall activities of the church family, Paul listed qualities an overseer should have – as well as some qualities an overseer should definitely not have.

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy…

One way to understand the importance of each of these not characteristics is to consider what it would be like if our leaders actually had these qualities:

not addicted to wine – Notice Paul doesn’t say “thou shalt not drink”.  Instead, Paul wants Timothy to ensure that the prospective overseer does not allow himself to be controlled by alcohol.  The line between appropriately handling and not appropriately handling varies from person to person.  Does he “need a drink” every time stress starts to build?  If he is regularly turning to alcohol for comfort, escape, or pleasure…then this is a huge warning flag.  Think of the damage a man with this addiction in an overseer position would do.  Personal and private issues would eventually become public incidents – divorce, DUI, financial disaster.  There is room in God’s family for anyone dealing alcohol and with the problems it can cause.  However, while they are being dealt with, that person should not be leading a congregation.

not a bully – We’ve seen this in other areas of life.  Someone is really successful at “getting the job done”, but when you look beneath surface, you find that they stepped all over people to actually get the job done.  Several times in His ministry, Christ said that the greatest in His kingdom was the one who was the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 22:26).  As such, there is no place in leadership of God’s family for someone who physically intimidates others, is always ready for a fight, or who treats others belligerently.  An overseer is there to guide and direct others toward Jesus.  Since Jesus never led way, a church leader has no excuse to do so, either.

not quarrelsome – In addition to telling Timothy to avoid appointing leadership to someone who relies on being physically intimidating, Paul also tells Timothy to watch out for those who are verbally intimidating.  Does he love arguments because he relishes to chance to prove someone else is wrong?  Is he always on the defensive?  It’s impossible to lead others toward the God who loves them if the one leading them does not speak out of love toward them.

not greedy – Greed cuts into the attitude of both the poor and the rich.  It is a consuming desire for what you don’t have.  This is probably the most common visible vice for those in church leadership.  The low hanging fruit is to make sure that they are not lovers of money and not materialistic.  However, Paul doesn’t limit their greed to money here…greed could manifest itself in other ways, in their desire for authoritative power, or increased church attendance, or in the approval from people.

When we begin to breakdown Paul’s list, we find that these qualifications are rather exhaustive and to find all of these characteristics in one man might even be difficult.  However, I believe that is Paul’s point.  Look at how he finishes the qualification list:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)

A man’s family is his proving ground.  Since the church family is made up of our individual families, the same kind of leadership is needed at the church-level.  If I cannot handle my family of four…then I should not expect to be able to oversee 40 other families.  Paul knew that any one of these not characteristics had the potential to inflict severe damage to an individual family, and the damage would only be magnified when they crop up in church leadership.  Timothy had to be careful in who he selected for the job.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Ignorant, undeserving, and accepted

Parenting small children is not for the faint-hearted.  As Dr. Kevin Leman is fond of saying, “We have seen the enemy, and they are small.”  There’s just so much of life – both good and bad – that they simply do not understand.  It’s good how they try to cure their ignorance by asking ‘Why?’ all the time, but even then, a child will trust her own interpretation more than she trusts the answer for her question.

A child’s perception also skews how they interact with the world.  Simple things – like the dark, mannequins, or balloons – paralyze them in fear; but they are oblivious to the real dangers in life – like poisons, traffic, and sharp objects.

A child may even fully believe he is doing a good thing, when in fact, there is a dangerous consequence and he is totally unaware of where his actions will take him.  When one of my boys was quite young, he was wearing a set of headphones and wandering around the house while he played.  However, he was quite upset and threw large fit when I wouldn’t let him plug the headphones into a light socket.  In his mind, everything was fine and dad was being completely unreasonable.  Even after I told him ‘no’ and removed him from area, he stubbornly persisted.

I think we act toward God like my obstinate little boy.  We want what we want, when we want it.  We think we’re doing something ok, even something good…but God knows the real, eternal consequence of our actions.  Just like a small child…even if we know that what we’re doing is wrong, we still chase after our ignorant desires.

But thankfully, God is willing to forgive our selfish, self-focused actions.  Take a look at how Paul describes God’s forgiveness:

1 Timothy 1:12-14
I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry – one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.

Since it was out of ignorance that I had acted in unbelief, I received mercy, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Like a small child, Paul ignorantly acted on his own self-focused desires.  He didn’t believe God, Paul thought he knew better.  However, despite Paul’s actions, God extended mercy.  The term mercy means to help the afflicted, to show compassion to the wretched.  I’ve often heard it described as not giving someone the punishment or consequence they fully deserve.

How was this mercy extended?  Paul gives Timothy the first of three trustworthy sayings to take to heart:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

Paul didn’t say that Jesus came to save those of us who were trying hard to be good.  Jesus’ offer of salvation isn’t just to those people who are “basically good” but just mess up every once in a while. 

Let’s not gloss over what Paul says Timothy should fully accept – Jesus came for the sinners.  Jesus came for those of us who think that God’s work is evil.  Jesus came those of us who support harassment and oppression of Jesus followers.  Jesus came for those of us who vainly believe that we are the most important.  Jesus came for us, despite our ignorance and unbelief.

And after Paul accepted His mercy, Jesus didn’t stop there.  Immediately, the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  The wretched received an undeserved belonging.  He was no longer one of the afflicted ones.  He had a family and a purpose.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

A level playing field

In the ancient world, you knew your place in society.  If you were born into the elite class, you associated with and married in the elite class.  If you were on the outside looking in, you knew that too.  You also knew that you would never be able to join the upper crust.

Slaves in the ancient world were considered property of their masters – either by temporary arrangement (like to pay back some debt) or as a permanent situation.  There were avenues in society for a slave to purchase their freedom or to be released by their masters, but those situations were the exception, not the norm.

The name “Onesimus” was a common slave name since it means “useful”, for that is what the master expected of his slaves – that they would make themselves useful to their owner and the family they served.  When Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, he used the slave’s name in a play on words in his petition to Philemon:

Philemon 9-11
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, who I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 

In his prior life, Onesimus was useless.  Whatever had happened between him and his master Philemon was substantial and, as we’ll read later, monetarily expensive.  The situation had to have been significant based upon Onesimus’ choice to leave – either as a runaway slave, or even if he sought Paul out to intercede with Philemon.  After causing significant damage to Philemon and then departing, Onesimus truly had no usefulness to Philemon.  However, after encountering Jesus and trusting Him for eternal life, Onesimus has become eternally useful – both to God and among the family of believers.

Philemon 12-16
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 

For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Oh, the level playing field created by Jesus!

Take a moment to appreciate what took place when Onesimus joined God’s family.  Despite his background, past sins, or current social and economic circumstance, Onesimus is now on equal footing with Philemon AND Paul.

In Christ, the slave is on equal ground with the master and the apostle.  Since Jesus paid the price for all sins that means there is room at cross for everyone.  Paul even said as much in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

None of the world’s barriers, distinctions, or divisions can prevent someone from joining God’s family.  There is not one of life’s circumstances that can prevent you from trusting Jesus for eternal life.  His offer is available to all.  We only need to trust Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Every name has a story

A right-hand man, a run-away slave, a prisoner, a deserter, a doctor, two unknowns, and a local man all join forces under the leadership of an ex-rabbi to complete the biggest mission ever undertaken on the planet.  Can they overcome their individual pasts, their previously held biases, and external advesaries to complete the mission?

It almost sounds like Hollywood’s next attempt at a summer blockbuster.  Throw a variety of characters together and then – with some clever plot twists and scripted lucky breaks – it all works out in the end.

However, the list above describes the cast of individuals working on the Apostle Paul’s team when he sent a letter to the believers in Colossae.  Oftentimes, we just skim over these “so and so send his greetings” sections, but let’s take a brief look at the assembled team:

Colossians 4:9-14
I have sent [Tychicus] to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus.  These alone of the circumcision are my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you…Luke the loved physician, and Demas greet you.

From other mentionings in the Bible, here’s what we know about these men:

Tychicus – One of Paul’s most trusted workers.  He delivered the letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae, and likely delievered the letter to Philemon.  He was both an encourager and a leader.

Onesimus – He was slave who ran away from his Christian master, Philemon.  At some point during his running, he met Paul and became a Christian.  After ministering with Paul for a while, Onesimus would return to Philemon in an attempt to reconcile.

Aristarchus – He was a Jewish Christian from Thessalonica.  A bold preacher of the gospel, he was a victim of a mob scence against Christianity.  At the time of the Colossian letter’s writing, Aristarchus was also in prison with Paul, presumably for the same reason – preaching the gospel.

Mark, Barnabas’ cousin – This is John Mark, who deserted Barnabas and Paul during their first missionary journey.  He was also the reason Paul and Barnabas did not take a second missionary journey together.  Years later, Mark and Paul have been reconciled and began working together again.  At some point even later, John Mark works with the Apostle Peter and writes the gospel of Mark.

Jesus, who is called Justus – This is his only mentioning in the Bible, so nothing further about him is known.

Epaphrus – He was responsible for bringing the gospel to the Colossians.  He has preached throughout his home region, including in Laodicea and Hierapolis (both about 15 miles from Colossae).  Paul calls him a faithful minister, and he references Epaphrus’ commitment to pray for his people’s maturity and development.

Luke – He was a doctor and an excellent historian.  He accompanied Paul on many journeys.  He also wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.

Demas – When the Colossian letter was written, he was ministering with Paul.  However, later on Paul says that Demas deserted him, because he “loved this present world”.  Nothing else is known about him.

That’s a crazy diverse group of people.  However, the longer we’re in God’s family…the more we realize that God must like crazy diverse, because that’s what we find.  People with backgrounds and skills sets you never would have placed together are suddenly living life for Jesus – together.  They minister together, and it’s incredible both watch and participate in.

So if Paul’s team had such an assorted background, then you won’t be disqualified by your past.  I’m certain that God can work with whatever you’ve been through. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The motivation for everything

This might be a strange thought, but not every Christian will live out a Christ-focused life in the same way.  Even if we recognize this truth, we often have specific expectations (typically patterned after our own journey) of what “mature Christian behavior” should look like.  The truth of the matter is that it would be rather shallow of us to expect everyone to be “as spiritual” or be “as holy” in the identical manner that God is currently leading us in.  Maybe someone is behind us in development.  Maybe, just maybe…someone else could be ahead of us.

Think about our own families – our parents poured themselves into us and our siblings.  However, due to our varying ages and on-going development, the same efforts of our parents ended up producing very different adult people.  The expectations of behavior placed on the oldest child were often not even subjects that were being taught to the younger children.  Rarely was the same life lesson taught in the same manner to each child.  The specifics of these life-living lessons were tailored to where the child was at the particular moment.

However, the principles of the family were the same among the children.  Many of the stories and traditions of the family were the same as previous generations – stories of love, and loyalty, and bravery and the events of previous years.  You could see the family traits in the people around you, but they all exhibited them in different ways.

The same holds true for the family of God.  There is a common tie that binds us together – the incredible story of God leaving the glory and perfection of Heaven to rescue us from our selfish, sin-soaked mess.  However, as His story becomes part of our story…His character is revealed through us in a variety of ways.

As Paul continues to explain to the Colossian believers how God’s family works together and encourages one another with the message about the Messiah, take note of the guiding principle for how that message is to affect their lives and maturity:

Colossians 3:16-17
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Instead of laying out a 12 point plan for maturity, Paul wants the believers to recognize that everything is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Doing anything “in someone’s name” means that we are their representative or ambassador.  We know that our manners and conduct reflect back on Jesus, and we also know that we’ll eventually have to give an account for how well we represent Him.  Whatever you do in word or in deed – that phrase pretty much covers it all, doesn’t it?

Paul’s direction is broad enough that there’s no technicality for us to escape it.  The broad-ness also allows for a wide-variety of expressions.  Take, for example, that in these two verses Paul says we are to have gratitude and we are to give thanks.  While that is a specific direction, how exactly shall we give thanks?  We could give thanks through prayer, with tears, with spoken words, with silent reverence, with charitable actions, or many other ways. 

Too often we get hung up on measuring a Christian’s maturity by looking at the things he or she does.  However, God looks beyond those things and evaluates our maturity based upon our motivations.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In the heat of the moment

Living with family is hard.  We have different likes, preferences, reactions, attitudes, and opinions.  With all of these differences, conflict becomes a “when” not an “if”.  When we get into the heat of conflict, it is pretty difficult to remember in that moment all of the ways we should be acting toward the other person.  Trying to guard our tone, volume, our word choice, and to listen before speaking are all very difficult to remember when we’re in the middle of defending our position.

A list of conflict resolution skills to practice is helpful…but only before the moment arrives.  When conflict hits, we’ll remember one or two of them, at best.  Since the way disagreements are handled can make or break relationships, it’s important to ask,

“Which skill or attitude is the most important?  What is the one thing to remember when conflict comes?”

In his letter, Paul coached the Colossian believers on how to prepare themselves to handle conflict within God’s family.  Earlier, he listed five character traits that they were to practice putting on, just like they would put on their clothes.  As they practiced the traits of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, they would be able to accept and forgive each other when issues arose. 

However, the heat of the moment is a difficult time for those involved.  That’s why I think Paul continued with this piece of guidance:

Colossians 3:14-15
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts.

This is the “if you forget everything else, remember what I’m about to tell you” moment in Paul’s letter.  Paul flags this most important direction with the key phrase above all.  So above all the Colossians are to remember to put on love.  They are to get dressed in the same kind of love that God has extended to us in Christ Jesus. 

Jesus himself gave the same answer when He was asked which section of the Jewish law was most important.  The person asking wanted to know what part of Moses’ law would be a guiding principle above all the other laws:

Matthew 22:37-40
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus said that for us to love is our highest aim…but also notice that everything else flows out of that love.  Paul is telling the Colossians the same thing – Above all, put on love.  The other characteristics would flow out of how well we love, especially in the midst of conflict.

But how do we know what is the best way to show love?  How will we know what is best for the other person when we’re in the middle of a fight?

To that, Paul throws in an “and”.  The Colossians were to let the peace of the Messiah control their hearts.  The peace of the Messiah was what Jesus brought to the sin-caused conflict between the human race and God.  Jesus was willing to give Himself up to address the problem head-on, so that our relationship with God the Father could be restored.

Paul uses an interesting word for what this kind of peace is supposed to do to us.  The Greek word for control comes from a context of athletic games, where an official would serve as an umpire in the match.  Paul wants the peace of the Messiah then to guide, direct, and umpire our love for the family member we’re clashing with.  So when family conflict comes, and it will, this all we need to remember:

Above everything else, let’s aim for peace because we love them. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Because they're family

There’s always one in every family.  And sometimes, there’s more than just one. 

You know who I’m talking about: the relative that always seems a little bit “off”, or the one who talks too much (about herself, usually), or the one everyone else is afraid will start another family fight.  When it’s announced they’re coming to Thanksgiving dinner, your kids look at you and ask “Why do we still invite them over every year?”  We all typically answer with the same reply, too – “Because they’re family.”

When Paul began to describe to the Colossian believers all the many ways that their new life in Christ would be lived out, he started by listing some characteristics they were going to have to learn to put on, just like they got dressed every morning.

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

Paul didn’t just list these out because they sounded good.  Paul’s aim wasn’t that the Colossians would become “nice people”.  Rather, he had a specific purpose in mind. 

As the good news of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and offer of eternal life spread throughout the known world, the church began to fill with people that were previously isolated and separated from each other.  The church was a melting pot of people from all over all of the spectrums.  Since the love of Jesus transcends all human boundaries, His church was composed of different races, ethnicities, economic status, political ideologies, religious backgrounds, and even people that just did not like each other.

So now that they were all connected through faith in Jesus, it wasn’t going to work for them to put on a fake smile and just try to play nice.  After Paul lists out these important characteristics for the believers to cloth themselves with, he goes on to tell them where these traits will be applied:

Colossians 3:12-13
...put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.

We need to put on and practice these traits, because without them we are unable to accept, let alone forgive, those around us.  Notice there are no restrictions or qualifiers in Paul’s direction.  God expects his children to accept and forgive His other children.  Any one, and any complaint.

Notice also that Paul doesn’t say ignore or disregard the complaint itself.  Paul is dealing with the person here, the best solution to the complaint will be found as the listed character traits are applied to the situation.

And in case any of them thought they just couldn’t forgive (yet again) or if they refused to accept someone in the family, Paul followed up with this reminder:

Colossians 3:13
Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.

There is nothing we have done – even repeatedly – that He hasn’t forgiven us for.  The Colossians were going to imitate and be like God as they extended the same heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience to each other.  Because they’re family. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Harsh words

The quickest way to change a situation is to open our mouths and have something selfish and negative come out.  With just a few harsh words, the tone of a conversation can be altered and the general mood of the room is radically different.  Depending on what we say and how we say it, relationships can be damaged for a significant amount of time. 

Recognizing this, it’s easy to see how careless words can tear apart family members.

After warning the Colossian believers to put to death any idolatry and greed that comes out of their hearts, Paul encourages them to take their conduct up to the next level by closely watching what comes out of their mouths.

Colossians 3:8
But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.

Paul says that these types of words must be put away.  The Greek word for put away means to “put off or aside”.  This action is intentional, and there’s no wiggle room here, it must be done.

Not to be self-congratulating, but I would like to use an example from my own life – I have decided there are some things that my boys will never hear from me.

I can clearly remember stories, jokes, and advice given to me over the years…but I will not repeat them.  Some memories go way back into my youth.  The stories and jokes were meant to be funny, and honestly, I laughed quite a bit at them.  My immaturity was in full bloom as I listened intently to my friends’ stories, trying to add in some off-color or inappropriate joke of my own.  My quick wit was good for that, or so I thought.

I also have distinct memories of “advice” given to me by people who were lashing out in anger and frustration, either at someone else or at the world in general.  I can still hear their voices say those words as they angrily warned me to avoid certain individuals or people groups.

However, I will not place the burden of these words on my children, or anyone else around me.  The memory of these words will die with me.

Now that the memories have been put away, the real challenge is to follow Paul’s direction and keep anything new from springing out of my mouth.  Now you must put away he says.  Paul’s direction needs to be applied moment by moment – even when things go sideways at work, or I’m caught off-guard, or my plans for the evening get wrecked, or I am hurt (yet again) by someone close to me.

Paul isn’t saying it’s wrong to be upset, frustrated, or even angry; we just need to be watchful for how our mouths express those emotions.  Guarding what comes out of our mouths is vital for maintaining healthy relationships within the family of God and with those outside of the family. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In this family...

At some point in our lives, I think we’ve all had our parents tell us “If you’re part of this family, then you’ll…<insert particular actions, thoughts, or words>”.  And now as a parent, I’ve said it, too.  When I use the word “If” in these kinds of statements, my boys know that I’m not questioning if they are truly my children.  Instead, I’m implying that they know they are part of the family, and since they are, then a particular course is expected of them.

Throughout his letter to the Colossians, it is abundantly clear that Paul is writing to believers.  

1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae
1:13 [the Father] has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves
2:12 ...you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God
2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him

However, even though they were in the family, the Colossians still needed help understanding how relationships worked inside God’s family.  In some ways, they were still acting and thinking like they had before they entered into God’s family.

After affirming that they are part of the family, Paul had this to say about how they were thinking and acting:

Colossians 2:20
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

You can hear what Paul’s implying here: If you died with Christ (and you did), why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

But just as the Father has rescued believers from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus, Paul says that our relationship with Jesus will similarly rewire our thoughts and actions. 

Colossians 3:1
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.

Again, he uses the same implied-relationship statement: if you have been raised with the Messiah (and you have), seek what is above.

The Greek word for seek is a pretty intense one.  It means to seek in order to find out – by thinking, meditating, reasoning, and enquiring.  It carries the idea of striving and craving (even demanding) something from someone.

Paul is letting these believers know that in this family, we don’t establish and maintain a relationship with God by following a set of man-made rules.  Instead, we passionately pursue Jesus.  We seek Him out.  The same thing happens with my boys – they don’t create a “good” relationship with me when they follow self-imposed rules in order to avoid punishments; we have a “good” relationship when they are interested in who I am and what I am like, because it is then that they reciprocate my love for them.

So don’t mess around with the old way of life, the way the world thinks that “religious” people should live.  Following rules doesn’t create a relationship with God, but actively pursuing Him will create this new relationship. 

Want to know what the new relationship is like in God’s family?  Seek Jesus, and he’ll show you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Identity and fear

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a barrage of spiritual ideas and false teachings.  After giving them a general warning about these dangerous influences, Paul begins to discuss several of the false teachings directly.  From Paul’s comments in the following section, it seems as if the false teachers were “ok” with Jesus, but they also had their own additions or subtle changes about who Jesus was.

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

The primary question each of us must answer is “Who is Jesus?”.  In comparison to all other religions and belief systems, Jesus uniquely claims to be both God and man. 

Throughout the centuries, however, people have tried in many different ways to diminish this characteristic of Jesus.  Some have taught that Jesus was just a spirit and only appeared to be human.  There have been claims that Jesus was a man who had some God-like ability.  Others have stated that he was only partially divine – similar to the Greek’s demi-god legends. 

Alternative theories about Jesus’ true nature are still around today.  We hear things like “Jesus was a great teacher” or “Jesus was a man who had God’s spirit on him for a short time, but it left him as he died on the cross”.   

However, Paul stresses to the Colossians that these other explanations about Jesus’ nature are completely inadequate.  Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  He wasn’t just a great human teacher.  He wasn’t just another human philosopher.  He wasn’t just a religious leader.  He wasn’t even partially God, or like a Greek demi-God…Jesus was the entire fullness of God’s nature in bodily form.

Understanding this concept – that Jesus is fully God and fully man – is critical as we understand our new identity within the family of God.  The fullness of our Creator, what makes Him who He is…that identity has been passed on to every believer. 

Stop and think about that…we are directly identified with the King of the Universe.

Since Jesus is fully God and fully man, He was the only one qualified to offer His life as a ransom for ours.  Because of His death and resurrection, He is head over every ruler and authority.

Since we are identified with the One in charge of everything, we do not need to fear any other ruler or authority.  What a freeing thought!

When we find that freedom and the strength that comes with it, no other philosophy or teaching will take us captive – because we know Jesus as He truly is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Maturing together

When we think of a “mature” person, we typically remember an adult that doesn’t laugh at inappropriate or innuendo kinds of joking.  We also imagine someone who is more formal than messy, stoic rather than expressive, and nice…but probably a little boring.  Maturity is a trait that we know we should eventually have, or should probably have a little bit more than we currently do.  Acting like we’re mature typically leads to people thinking we’re mature – and when we reach the point that people think of us as a mature person, it means that we are one…right?

As with everything else in life, this a good topic to see from God’s perspective.  When we look at the Scriptures, we find that God’s already provided an explanation of what maturity looks like for us.  A survey of the New Testament shows that many authors touch on this topic, and some do so repeatedly.  Whenever the maturity of a believer is discussed, the author speaks of it as a goal or as the ultimate destination for those who already trust Jesus for eternal life.

The Greek word most commonly translated as mature carries the idea of someone or something that is finished and “perfect” in terms of being fully completed.  The end goal of the maturing process has been met.  There is no longer potential to be something…because now the person or object has achieved all of its potential.

However, reaching maturity isn’t an end to itself.  When we become mature, we won’t sit around and be impressed with ourselves; instead, maturity is the starting point for an especially close relationship with God, where He reveals Himself and the deep things about Him.  A mature Christian has the strength, the self-control, and the wisdom to live life as God designed us.   

Even still, we are quick to think that maturity is something that happens to us on an individual basis.  We also expect that it occurs only after we’ve obtained enough knowledge or experience.  However, that’s not how Paul described the goal of maturity to the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 1:28-29
We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Did you notice how Paul desires that all believers reach maturity…and then immediately talks about their hearts?  Paul includes understanding and knowledge as part of our maturing process, but those are listed after the needs of our hearts.

Also notice that Paul uses the plural here – I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love.  Maturity happens within the context of community in God’s family.  We won’t become complete or reach our full potential outside of our relationships with other believers.  

This kind of maturity will be more messy than formal, expressive instead of stoic, and certainly full of never-dull moments.  Growing together will be hard at times, but it brings about the kind of maturity we were made for.

Keep Pressing,
Ken